Queen of the Alaskan wilderness

Sigrid Ekran of Norway is one of only a few women who have embarked on the world’s longest and most difficult sled dog race, Alaska’s Iditarod. She finished 24th in this year’s race.

“I had perhaps hoped for a better placing, but given the difficulty of the race, I’m quite happy,” Sigrid Ekran told the Norwegian broadcasting corporation NRK after crossing the finishing line.

Along with fellow Norwegian Kjetil Backen, who ended 9th in this year’s race, 27-year-old Ekran has made her mark in the  international mushing community. In last year’s Iditarod she won the “Rookie of the Year” prize for first-time participants, despite breaking her nose and suffering from food poisoning during the race.

Sigrid Ekran in action during this year’s race. Photo: Trude L. Paulsson/Team Sigrid Ekran.

Most of the time Ekran, who originally hails from Sparbu in the county of Northern Trøndelag, lives in a small cabin without water or electricity in the middle of the Alaskan wilderness. The cabin once belonged to the legendary dog driver Susan Butcher, the only woman to have won the Iditarod four times. This year there were 26 women taking part in the race, of a total of 114 registered participants. 

Sigrid Ekran. Photo: Trude L. Paulsson/Team Sigrid Ekran.

One of Ekran’s role models is Butcher. She has also been inspired by Norwegian explorers such as Helge Ingstad and Fridtjof Nansen, as well as the Norwegian musher Leonhard Seppälä, who participated in the 1925 Serum Run to Nome, in which dog drivers relayed an antitoxin across Alaska to combat a diphtheria epidemic. The Serum Run, also known as the “Great Race of Mercy”, was later a source of inspiration for the Iditarod. Gunnar Kaasen, from Brufjord in Norway, drove the last leg of the dramatic journey to save the small city of Nome and its surrounding communities. He arrived in Nome with the black husky Balto, who was later immortalised in a statue in New York’s Central Park. In 1995 an animation film was made based on the story of the famous dog.

In a few weeks’ time, Sigrid Ekran will be taking part in an expedition across Ellesmere Island in Canada along with five other young polar explorers from four different countries. The expedition has been initiated by the respected polar adventurer and environmental campaigner Will Steger. The aim of the project is to document climate change and inspire young people to take collective action against global warming.

In April, Sigrid Ekran will take part in an expedition across Ellesmere Island.Photo: Trude L. Paulsson

The Iditarod is an annual sled dog race across Alaska. The trail covers a distance of 1770 kilometres, from Anchorage in the southeast to Nome in the northwest. It was first held in 1973. In 2003, Robert Sørlie of Norway became the first non-American to win the Iditarod, and he repeated his success in 2005.

Sigrid Ekran. Photo: Trude L. Paulsson/Team Sigrid Ekran.

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